For many people, COVID-19 causes only minor symptoms, or they may never get sick at all, but for others, the disease’s impact can be severe and long-lasting. That’s what the University of Kansas Medical Center is hoping to address with its new outpatient clinic for individuals suffering with long-term COVID-19 complications.
Dr. Leslie Spike, a pulmonologist, said the clinic grew out of a network of pulmonology specialists like her who wanted to address “long-haul” symptoms, but it became clear that different patients would need different specialists.
She estimates up to 30% of COVID-19 patients could benefit from the clinic based on data about the longevity of symptoms.
Not a traditional clinic
It’s not a clinic in the traditional sense, as it won’t be a separate facility, but will be an “integrated” system that connects patients with specialists who can help them get “back to their baseline health,” Dr. Branden Comfort, a primary care physician in the KU Health System, said earlier this week.
In other words, the clinic operates virtually — like the Center for Concussion Management, said Jill Chadwick, director of media relations and Medical News Network.
The clinic will include specialists across a number of fields, including cardiology, neurology, pulmonology, physical therapy, social work and mental health.
People eligible for the clinic must show chronic COVID-19 symptoms. Those can vary but may include prolonged coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, joint or muscle pain, persistent loss of taste or smell, cognitive impairment and debilitating fatigue. Patients should have symptoms for about 12 weeks.
“We’re going to follow these patients for as long as it takes,” Comfort said. “A lot of our patients do tend to get better over time.”
The first clinic of its kind in metro
While other similar clinics have popped up across the U.S. and around the world, Comfort believes this is the first clinic of its kind in the Kansas City metro.
For now, it will only be available to patients already in the KU Health System. He said, however, it should become available to others in the community soon. The goal is to have the logistics worked out to expand the clinic to the general community in February, Chadwick says.
“To put things in perspective, there was — and still is — a high price that a lot of people paid for us to survive and a lot of people that didn’t survive,” Anil Gharmalkar, a COVID-19 patient still recovering from the disease, said Wednesday. “The greatest thing we can do to honor them and their sacrifice is to keep moving forward.”
While not available yet, a phone number hotline will be set up for primary care physicians to call in order to connect their patients with long-haul COVID-19 symptoms with the clinic. “Nurse navigators” will be an integral part in getting those patients in the care of the specialists they need, Chadwick says.